Much legend and lore have created a mystique around singer, songwriter and musician Gram Parsons.
Fans flock to the Joshua Tree Inn to stay there in his room, leave tributes to him at the “alter” in front of his room which is #8, flock to Joshua Tree National Park to visit where his remains were set on fire by his friends at Cap Rock and still others are so enamored by the legend that has become Gram Parsons that they move to the Mojave Desert, and Joshua Tree in particular.
There is a cottage industry at Joshua Tree that consists of t-shirts, festivals and “PHILGRAMAGEs” which are led by friend and road manager Phil Kaufman. Kaufman declined an interview to answer questions that needed to be asked. Also, there must be hundreds of people that go through Joshua Tree National Park to visit the Cap Rock that are paying $35.00 a car for their pilgrimage.
Parsons overdosed on morphine and alcohol when he was 26 years old and on the precipe of hitting it big on the tour he was getting ready to go out on with a new project. He had come to the Joshua Tree Inn that time to clear his head before embarking on the next level of his career. Parsons had been a frequent visitor to Joshua Tree as a way of clearing his head. I’ve always wondered what it was about Joshua Tree that helped him to clear his head and why was it always Joshua Tree Inn where he stayed.
People have written about and have told me that it was the pace out there, the vortexes that are all over the area and the solitude that one can experience out there in the Mojave Desert. It all sounds good and interesting, but I felt that there was something else, a backstory if you will. I was to find out much later in my investigation what that was.
On September 17th, 1973, Parsons checked in at the Joshua Tree Inn and Motel and it was business as usual for Parsons. He began indulging in his favorite party favors to quench the fire that burned inside of his body. A fire that would not go away easily.
It is necessary to take a look at the forces that were surrounding his space at that time as it aides us in understanding what was flying around in his head at that important time of his life.
Chris Hillman, The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers, stated it the best in interviews that are posted on his Facebook page and I am keeping the whole quote intact as he had lost another friend to an accident. “Gram’s death upset me a lot, but I was more upset by Clarence’s because it was an accident, out of the the blue. I was ready for Gram’s death, I guess; for months before I’de watch him just disintegrate …” In another interview, Hillman stated “He (Parsons) was seduced by the trappings of Rock N’ Roll. That was his downfall. But some of the best stuff I’ve ever been around was in that era when we first got together. That was the good Gram, back then, the hungry, inspired kid.”
One cannot help but muse about the trappings of Rock N’ Roll and what role they did play in Parsons demise on September 19, 1973 at the age of 26. Many people claim 27 to include him in the “27 Club” whose artists died at the age of 27…Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Amy Winehouse to name a few of its members.
Parsons was hanging out with the Rolling Stones who at the time were careless in their lifestyle choices which in turn seemed to rub off on some of their posse. The Rolling Stones even had a song titled “Sister Morphine,” which had been released February 21, 1968. This song is co-written by singer Marianne Faithful who had a substance abuse issue and was a long-time paramour to Mick Jagger. Then there is the death of the Rolling Stones founder Brian Jones. There are many tales and groups that contend that this was no ordinary drowning in a pool. Official reports put it as an accidental drowning on July 3, 1969. Jones did have well documented drug abuse issues.
The free Rolling Stones concert at Altamont on December 6, 1969 had a death which was laid at the feet of their Hell’s Angels “security” who had stabbed a concert goer to death. There were also a few other deaths at the concert.
According to Keith Richards in an interview for a blog titled “The Selvedge Yard” in 2010, Richards stated the following: “He had cleaned up prior to his death. He thought that he could handle the same amount as before.” Richards also stated that Parsons wasn’t any worse than the rest of them when it came to drug use and that he knew plenty prior to his hanging out with Richards. Parsons had a lot of respect for Richards’ opinion as Parsons left The Byrds because they were slated to tour South Africa and Richards had told Parsons that they weren’t going to tour there because of sanctions and embargoes that were in force at the time.
This is the influence that Parsons was hanging out with during this time prior to his death. There are many photos floating around of Parsons with Keith Richards and with Richards and his longtime girlfriend Anita Pallenberg at Joshua Tree National Park. A photo caption in one of those photos would lead me to Parsons’ real passion for Joshua Tree.
When Parsons overdosed in room #8 on morphine and alcohol, many stories about what transpired after he passed out from Niacin to stuffing an ice cube up his bum to revive him which of course didn’t work. When Kaufman heard that Parsons’ body was going to be at LAX to be shipped elsewhere he decided to liberate Parsons’ body from LAX with the help of his assistant Michael Martin. Once Parsons’ body was liberated they shoved it into Martin’s Cadillac Hearse and headed to Joshua Tree National Park. They arrived at Cap Rock and couldn’t go in any further as they were drunk and the coffin was heavy so they set fire to it right there. Unfortunately it didn’t go off very well as the fire wasn’t hot enough to burn the coffin as well as Parsons’ body.
Known as the road mangler or the executive babysitter, Kaufman was charged along with his assistant Martin.
The body was returned to the family and shipped to Louisiana for burial. Parsons’ is buried at the Garden Of Memories Cemetery in Metairie, LA. Parsons’ rhinestone studded Nudie suit is at the Country Music Hall Of Fame in Nashville, Tenn.
Fast forward to now in present day Joshua Tree and he is a legend. He is credited with being the father of Alt-Country Rock and the Cosmic American Experience. This is in spite of the fact that he wasn’t well known at the time of his death. According to the Joshua Tree Inn receptionist “Dee Dee,” he became more famous after he died. “Dee Dee” also adds “Uncle Phil” had told her that Parsons was ready to break big on the tour that he was about to embark upon.
“Right before Gram passed away, he was in the process of going on a solo tour. All of his fans and Phil believe that if he could have gone on the tour it would have made his name and his brand of music huge. Before the tour he wanted to clear his head and relax for a few days. So he came to the Inn and never made the tour happen,” “Dee Dee” explained.
“Dee Dee” lamented the fact that Parsons became more famous in death than life, but did allow that his fan base is impressive. She added that they leave tokens of appreciation like two wine glasses and a bottle of wine and lots of guitar picks. There are so many that “Dee Dee” has begun working on a college of Parsons edged with the token guitar picks. Also, “Dee Dee” adds there are people that he grew up with that come to visit the room and look at the memorial that has been erected in front of room #8. On his birthdate or the date of his death we have at least 15 people come and visit. “Uncle Phil” comes once a year at random times.
“Dee Dee” is an encyclopedia of Gram Parsons knowledge and will not hesitate to tell you what she knows.
According to her, Parsons would frequent the CrossRoads which back then was the Trade Winds. On the night of his death he had his last drinks at a place called the Touchdown in Yucca Valley aka Wine and Roses. He chose this venue because he wanted something stronger than beer and that was all they served at the time at the Trade Winds.
As to the significance of the Joshua Tree Inn and Joshua Tree “Dee Dee” had this to say: “Some people look at JT as keeping the “legend” alive. While others see it as more of an inspiration.”
As “Dee Dee” is telling me that it’s necessary to make reservations well in advance of a planned stay as the demand for room #8 is great, I’m thinking that I would like to make a reservation to stay in room #8. The greatest demand is on his birth and death dates as well as festivals. In fact, the Joshua Tree Saloon has decided to expand its September festival to three days this year. No dates are available at this time please check their website later on to find out.
The front office of the Joshua Tree Inn is filled with Parsons memorabilia as well as the lounge area where Parsons’ music is played continuously. My neck got sore turning around and craning my neck to see everything this place had to offer. I made a reservation in November 2018 for January 13, 2019 so that I could experience all that this place had to offer. I had been in Joshua Tree around nine times to relax, get away from Los Angeles and dig around for more info about Parsons.
On one of my visits in 2018 I came across an unusual artist by the name of John Henson who has done a portrait of Parsons in nails. The event was the HWY 62 Art Tours which features artists from all around the Mojave Desert. It took Henson 60 hours over a four week period and used 20,048 hand pounded nails. The finished product is amazing and the Joshua Tree Inn posted it on their Facebook page when they saw it.
When asked if he viewed Parsons as a legend, Henson believes that his talents were not appreciated during his lifetime. “He is included on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Artists, but he never had a song or album break 100 on any charts. So he never achieved the fame one usually associates with being a legend, but his contributions to popular music and the influence he had on so many others was huge,” Henson informs .
Henson cites the inspiration for his Parson’s portrait as the “otherworldly” natural beauty, wildlife, spirit, culture and history of the Joshua Tree area in the Mojave Desert. “Gram Parsons had a fascination with Joshua Tree and is one of my favorite, albeit tragic, stories of artists and musicians who found inspiration in this place.”
Hensons does have his favorite Parson song which include “Love Hurts” with Emmylou Harris and “Ooh Las Vegas.” Henson discovered Parsons while he was a music producer and actually discovered him in a backwards manner, “A big fan of Wilco and Son Volt, I eventually discovered the seminal band Uncle Tupelo who in turn were influenced by Gram Parsons.”
As for his technique in creating the Parsons portrait, Henson allows that he outlined the piece with tiny pilot holes made by tapping a small nail, it wasn’t sketched by hand on the wood “canvas.”
For this that would like to see this Parsons portrait, Henson is having a show at Bruce Lurie Gallery March 1 to the 3rd. The address is 2738 La Cienega Blvd., 90034. Near Fairfax and Adams. Henson’s website is www.johnhensondesertart.com.
As for myself, I was never much of a hard core Gram Parsons fan. I was into The Byrds and Chris Hillman in particular so when Hillman formed The Flying Burrito Brothers and Parsons also joined that group I did appreciate his talents. It wasn’t until I started visiting Joshua Tree and Joshua Tree National Park that Parsons would let me know he was around by leaving me rusty old bottle caps (Cap Rock, Joshua Tree National Park) around areas that he was pleased that I was visiting…the bottle caps are a personal thing between the two of us and only appear in the desert.
Parsons also attached his spirit to my electronic devices such as my iPhone, iPod and Mac Book. He would disturb the flow of data/pixels and distort music files and photos. This has occurred several times while in the Mojave Desert. Parsons’ energy is nothing like that of Jim Morrison’s who pursued me all over Paris and did not give up until I visited his grave.
As January 13 neared, I was looking at hundreds of photos of Parsons and was really intrigued by the length of his fingers. Really quite long fingers which made for his demon like playing of a guitar. And then there it was the main attraction for Parsons’ fascination…UFOs. He would scan the sky for UFOs. I can understand that as I’ve found myself more than once scanning the sky for UFOs. This area just seems to invite that type of behavior. Sadly, the only thing I think I saw was Sasquatch running in the forest of Joshua Trees in the National Park.
Finally, January 13 arrived and my daughter-in-law April Yats and I embarked upon our “cosmic” journey into the realm of the spirit of Gram Parsons. There was only one warning that was given to us by attendant Destiny Alvarado, “What- ever you do, don’t play The Beatles! The energy in there (room #8) gets very negative.” Is my liking of The Beatles that apparent? Gingerly we began our “cosmic” journey to our room.
As we walked through the lounge to get to the patio area where room #8 is, Yats began snapping a photo which came out all distorted and pixilated. This room has many photos of Parsons and plays his music all day and night. It is a very comfortable room with a nice fireplace which probably made Parsons feel comfortable.
As we turned the key in the lock of room #8 Yats and I both felt the hairs on the back of our necks rise and there was a sense that we were crossing the threshold into another dimension where Parsons held control and we were there at his will. Yats and I looked at each other and entered the room. We were both holding our breath as we slowly scanned the small room searching for…evidence of spirit.
The only original thing left in this room is the mirror which is where we concentrated our attention and came to the conclusion that is where Parsons’ spirit lives. We set up a tribute to Parsons and began meditating in order to cross the bridge that led to Parsons.
Later on in the night Parsons made his appearance as a benevolent host and arranged for Yats to be occupied with painting a portrait of Joshua Tree with a Road Runner and a few other inspired items. While Yats painted, Parsons talked and talked and talked. In a sense I felt more like a therapist than anything and I mostly just listened. The things that came up first are contained in this story. The rest I am going to claim “patient” privilege.
The room is filled with Gram Parsons photos, CDs and photos and notes from visitors to the room. There is also a journal for guests to write in to share their thoughts with Gram Parsons. There is also a notebook full of information about Parsons and photos as well. There is also a small backyard where one can scan the sky for UFO’s or just kick back and enjoy the stillness of the Mojave Desert.
The Joshua Tree Inn/The CosmicAmericann Motel’s website is http://www.joshuatreeinn.com where you can check room #8’s availability, rates and lots of other info. You can also call “Dee Dee” at 760-366-1188 and speak to her about what you would like to do.